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Michael Crichton Allies With Virtus, Forms Timeline Studios

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CARY — Author Tom Clancy set up a computer game company in the Triangle. Now, author and movie producer Michael Crichton is doing the same.

Crichton's new company, Timeline Studios, will produce a series of games possibly based on his upcoming novels.

Crichton has allied himself with Cary's VirtusCorporation, the same company that started Clancy'sRed Storm Entertainment.

Virtus prides itself in leading edge 3-D technology, just the thing Crichton wants to make his games interactive and very realistic.

Crichton is a successful author, movie and TV producer. He is also very involved with computers and the use of digital imaging.

"Jurassic Park" and its sequel, "The Lost World," were written by Crichton. Now, artists and engineers at Virtus work to turn his vision into a computer game, and it is a big secret.

"The biggest thing we're kind of counting on is that secrecy and the fact that Michael Crichton is going to come out and tell everybody with us," said game producer Bob Griswold.

Games will use a new 3-D architecture from Virtus called OpenSpace 3D. It allows creation of realistic scenes using a virtual back lot.

"It allows you to treat characters in exactly the same way. You can reach into a library for those guys, drop them in and say 'OK, this is what I want you to look like and this is what I want you to do,'" said Virtus founder David Smith.

The flexibility and high-quality graphics persuaded Crichton to form Timeline Studios. The first game is due next year, and they will not say what kind of game.

"I told him about what we were thinking about with OpenSpace and what we have done so far. He understood it immediately and decided to hitch his wagon to what we were doing," said Smith.

Virtus hopes OpenSpace 3D will also find a home in training applications and interactive electronic commerce.

"You'll be able to take yourself and put yourself in a chair and show how that chair reclines," said Mark Baric, Virtus CEO.

Rick Towson wrote the OpenSpace 3D rendering engine and is excited about Crichton's computer game.

"We get to really push the edge of the technology. We get to see some really fantastic stuff, and we get to work with Michael Crichton," said Towson.

Also involved with Crichton is screenwriter and movie special effects supervisor Michael Backes.

Backes worked with Smith on the movie "The Abyss" which led Smith to form Virtus nine years ago.

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Tom Lawrence, Reporter
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